UW-Madison students and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism explore marijuana legalization

A glass pipe, lighter and a bud of marijuana are seen at a party on Madison's East Side. A University of Wisconsin-Madison investigative journalism class is examining what would happen if Wisconsin were to legalize marijuana. The class is led by Dee J. Hall, managing editor for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Cannabis Question is a series exploring questions about proposals to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.

To offer a suggestion to the reporters or become a potential source for the story, please write to tips@wisconsinwatch.org or WCIJ, Fifth Floor, Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706. You can also call or text 608-501-2570.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison investigative journalism class is examining what would happen if Wisconsin were to legalize marijuana.

The public is invited to help.

Student journalists are investigating various aspects of legalization, which has taken on new currency with the election of Gov. Tony Evers. The Democratic governor supports legalization of medical cannabis and decriminalization of minor marijuana possession. Evers also has said he favors a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization for all uses. Ultimately, the decision would be up to the Legislature; Republican leaders, who control the Senate and Assembly, have said they are opposed to full legalization.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Alan Robinson, communications director for Madison NORML, and Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, speak to the investigative reporting class at the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication about marijuana legalization on Jan. 31, 2019.

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Managing Editor Dee J. Hall is leading the class. The series, to be published and distributed by the Center, is exploring:

  • The arguments and research for and against legalization;
  • The experiences of other states or jurisdictions that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana;
  • The scientific evidence underlying cannabis’ medicinal uses;
  • Who uses marijuana in Wisconsin and why;
  • The business of growing, producing and selling marijuana;
  • Whether Wisconsin’s new hemp industry offers any lessons for cannabis legalization;
  • A look at Michigan as it implements full legalization this year; and
  • The ways that marijuana arrests and convictions are impacting Wisconsinites.

In the first four weeks of class, students have heard from a variety of voices for and against legalization. They include Alan Robinson, communications director of the Madison chapter of the pro-marijuana group NORML and state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, who has introduced bills three times in the Legislature to legalize marijuana. Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney told students that the county does not ticket users for possessing small amounts of marijuana. He personally supports medical cannabis but opposes legalization, citing a lack of research on its effects. And they heard from Colton Grace of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization for recreational use but also believes users should not be arrested for possessing small amounts of the drug.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

UW-Madison student Rachelle Wilson listens to a presentation by Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Alan Robinson, communications director for Madison NORML, during the investigative reporting class on Jan. 31, 2019.

The results of the class investigation will be published and distributed by the Center to news outlets across the state and nation and on WisconsinWatch.org. The Center’s collaborations with student investigative projects are supported by the Ira and Ineva Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.

Previous student-generated projects include Undemocratic: Secrecy and Power vs. The People, which looked at various trends threatening Wisconsin’s democracy, including fast-tracking of legislation, dark campaign money and redistricting; Broken Whistle, which examined declining protections for whistleblowers in Wisconsin; and Failure at the Faucet, a national award-winning investigation of risks to the quality of the state’s drinking water.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Alan Robinson, communications director for Madison NORML, wore marijuana leaf-themed socks when he visited the investigative reporting class at the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Jan. 31, 2019.

How the public can help: The class is looking for people who have used — or seek to use — marijuana medicinally or recreationally. We are also seeking to interview people willing to discuss why they avoid use of marijuana or why they support or oppose legalization, decriminalization or medical cannabis use.

We would like to interview people who have faced consequences for marijuana possession, such as fines, incarceration, loss of federal student funding or public housing, loss of public benefits or disqualification from employment.

Since marijuana use in Wisconsin is illegal, requests to be an unnamed source will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

To offer a suggestion to the reporters or become a potential source for the story, please write to tips@wisconsinwatch.org or WCIJ, Fifth Floor, Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706. You can also call or text 608-501-2570.

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